Rockets general manager Daryl Morey faced criticism in some circles this week for his decision to move center Clint Capela in a deal for Robert Covington, creating an extra-small lineup that has head coach Mike D’Antoni playing Covington and P.J. Tucker as his de facto “bigs.” While there’s skepticism that Houston can seriously contend for a title playing that form of small-ball, the experiment is off to a good start, with a road win over the Lakers in Covington’s first game on Thursday.
Speaking to Mark Medina of USA Today about the Rockets’ new-look roster and the club’s approach to the deadline, Morey said that Covington is a player Houston had been “trying to get for a long time.” He also shared a few more interesting insights on that deal and expectations for the Rockets as the postseason nears.
The interview is worth checking out in full, but here are some of the highlights from Morey:
On why the Rockets made a major trade after Morey previously suggested they likely wouldn’t:
“It was really just Covington becoming available. We’ve been working on that for a long time. We thought he’d be a perfect piece to play the style we thought would be best for two superstars on our roster. Clint is an extremely good player and one we did not want to give up. But it was required in this deal. Without the perfect piece for how we wanted to play becoming available, Clint would still be here. That was really the only way to get this done.”
On whether Rockets ownership prioritized getting out of the luxury tax:
“No. Actually, I’m being totally up front. I was getting strong encouragement to go the other way.
“… Ownership incorrectly gets beat up. We operate like every other team in the NBA. When you’re a contender, you’re right around the luxury tax line. That’s how we’ve always operated. That’s how we’ve operated since I’ve been here since 2006. We still have a huge payroll in the league. I know people like to focus on it. But that’s a weird thing. Focus on the team on the floor. If people don’t like that we don’t have a big man or don’t like how we play, that’s fine. But judge us for how we are.”
On how the Rockets will approach the buyout market:
“Honestly, we’re just going for best player. We like how we’re playing. People are saying, ‘You have to get a big this or a big that.’ But we’re going for the best player. If that’s a big, we’ll go grab it and figure out if he can fit into our style. If it’s a wing, we’ll do that. We feel very comfortable with our roster. We like where we’re at. We think this is a team that can win the championship. But if we can add a good player in the buyout market, we’ll do it. But we’re not counting on the buyout market.”
On expectations for the Rockets in this year’s playoffs:
“The Lakers deserve to be called the favorites (to come out of the West). They play better than anyone to this point. They’re playing unbelievable basketball at both ends. So they’re the favorite. We’re in a group with the Clippers, Utah and Denver and the other top contenders in the West to fight with them. But we feel very comfortable we can beat the Lakers.”